Ageless Strength Training

Bill Starr
Part 3

I want to cover aspects of keeping the older body strong, fit and healthy that I didn’t elaborate on in previous installments of this series. First, a recap: Older athletes should train with lighter weights and use higher reps so as not to strain their joints the way heavy poundages and lower reps do. Older joints, for a great many reasons, can’t handle the stress of being pounded repeatedly with heavy resistance. Using lighter weights and higher reps makes a lot more sense. The movements flush nourishing blood to the joints and strengthen the cartilage, which is primarily responsible for the articulation of the joints. That’s a good thing—strengthening the joints without stressing them. In addition, the higher reps work the muscles very directly. It’s a two-for-one deal—enhancing muscle and cartilage strength while avoiding a great deal of involvement with the attachments. Tendons and ligaments, of course, play a role in any exercise, but with the higher reps, it’s a minor role. While the overall workload for a high-rep workout may be close, or even equal, to that achieved with heavy weights and low reps, the intensity is going to be much, much less. That has two implications. One, it’s easier to recover, and two, you’ll need to train more frequently. Unless you can still handle heavy weights without any problem, three days a week isn’t going to be enough to help you gain, or maintain, a high level of overall strength fitness. With the high-rep routine you need to train five or six days a week in order to work your muscles sufficiently. Many balk at that idea. It takes up too much time, they say. Okay—take time from doing what? What could possibly be more important to an older person than good health? The answer—nothing. Certainly not money. If you aren’t able to stay healthy, all your loot is going to gush down the drain in a hurry. Not family either, a typical excuse. You’re not going to be any help to your family or be able to share moments with them if you don’t take care of your health. What I’m talking about is dedicating two hours a day to the physical shell you reside in. In the overall scheme of things, that’s a drop in the bucket. An hour and a quarter training with weights, 45 minutes doing cardio and a small amount of time trying to improve flexibility and balance. Okay, I realize that adds up to more than two hours—but not by much because on some days you can complete the weight work in less that an hour and a quarter. Don’t evade my point: As you grow older, you have to allot a certain amount of time for your physical self. Some argue that they’d much prefer to train for a longer period and stick with three workouts a week, rather than expanding to five or six. Granted, there are some who can get away with that approach, but most older athletes can’t. I said that a high-rep routine is easier to recover from than a low-rep one, yet if the workout lasts for two hours plus, that’s no longer true. The workload for a long session is often double what you take on in a shorter one, and few can recover properly from it. Mostly that’s because older athletes are lacking in that critical recovery hormone, testosterone. More on that later.

As usual. The two sets that day used up 20 percent of my training time—more. Instead. That way you can hit all the large muscles at every workout from slightly different angles. The hardest part of doing a high-rep workout is having to concentrate on each and every rep from beginning to finish. static fashion. as I had to take a break to bring my pulse rate down between sets. Those starting in on a high-rep routine generally assume that it’s going to be much easier than one involving low reps. That means you need to restrict the number of exercises in your daily program—no more than five total. however.. high pulls. A set of five reps can be knocked out in half a minute or less. then complain of extremely sore elbows. I’ve watched men jerk a light dumbbell up and down in a motion vaguely similar to a curl for more than 100 reps. you still won’t be able to squeeze in more. Using improper form with heavy poundages usually makes for a failed rep. Just because people are using a relatively light weight. I think shrugging is beneficial. just work the other two movements diligently. bent-over rows and shrugs. actually. they figure they can rebound the bar and press it in any upward direction they choose as long as they do x number of reps.duh. you can work your shoulder girdle six times a week by alternating flat benches. That’s fine. such as power cleans. power snatches. The same idea goes for the back: deadlifts. It’s quite easy in the midst of one of them to let your mind wander. Even when you move quickly from one exercise to another. You can work your legs completely with just two exercises: back squats and lunges. Every rep needs to be performed precisely—no rebounding the bar off your chest on a flat or . I like six days of training. the biggest culprit is the bench press. Few older athletes are flexible enough to be able to rack the bar across their front deltoids correctly. very wrong. it’s more difficult. they don’t fit into an older athlete’s routine. I know because I timed how long it took me to do 125 reps on a flat bench using an Olympic bar. and in some ways it is. the sloppy technique is incessantly repeated. Nor do you have to try: You have five or six days to spread out the workload. High-rep workouts are very similar to the kind of work you have to do in a rehab program. and you’ll obtain the desired results. While I really like front squats for younger athletes. In other ways.Also keep in mind that it takes longer to complete a high-rep set than one done with lower reps. Very. while a set of 125 may take seven or eight minutes. but athletes of a certain age need to shrug in a relatively slow. inclines and overhead presses every third day. and on really high-rep exercises that can go on for five minutes or more. Also be aware that every exercise needs to be done deliberately—and not just the big-muscle movements. and having strong traps is extremely important to maintaining a strong back. shrugs or jerks. Since you should give every muscle group some attention during the week. three sessions aren’t going to feed the bulldog. Change the set-and-rep formula if you want some variety. For example. not counting warmup movements. Not so with light weights. It will eventually take a toll on the offended joint or joints. You might recall that I discourage older athletes from doing any explosive exercises. No other exercise involves the traps to such a degree. Well. Three for the major groups and a couple for the smaller ones. sometimes for the entire set..

Rather. If you feel that you can do 50 reps on some exercise. a blessing that gives me a great deal of control over how I look and feel. then another that’s tougher and then back to one that’s not as hard. Include at least one core exercise for the three major groups—back. It creates a more balanced development. lunges and all the auxiliary exercises. “I get to train today. I do crunches and reverse crunches for 10 minutes without a break. Add reps deliberately and only a few at a time. calves and deltoids. and center all of your attention on every set. I can get more done in a shorter period of time. I also do hyperextensions or good mornings and reverse hypers. can cause trouble if you repeatedly employ faulty technique. It takes time for your body and mind to adjust to a different type of training. I often do certain exercises back to back rather than as part of a circuit because the working muscles stay warmer. and when I resume my regular exercises. Then I finish off with multiple sets on the wheel. Example: the deadlift. and your shoulders. triceps. I don’t want to run. In fact. Make haste slowly is a good motto. and it improves cardiovascular fitness while strengthening the body. however. Jam up and down too fast or push the reps up too rapidly. I follow a difficult workout with one that’s just a bit less demanding. Rather. The slight change does wonders for the weekly routine. I previously mentioned that I no longer use the heavy. I like working in a circuit for several reasons. I don’t want to be thinking. You’re not qualifying for the Olympic trials. An exercise can also be a problem when overworked to the extreme. In cold weather. Being fit gives me freedom to move about and enjoy life. bent-over rows. start with 30 or 35 and slowly move up. A 72-year-old pen pal of mine started out doing 10 pushups every other day as part of his six-day-a-week program. That I do not want. and I can handle more . Those days usually come along every three or four weeks. along with a couple of movements for the smaller groups—biceps. elbows or wrists are going to signal you to make some changes. Case in point: the old stand-by. I simply can’t walk that fast. It may be just a certain area that requires a break. Instead of leg raises and situps. Start conservatively. as the pounding isn’t going to sit well with my ankles and knees. and the last time he wrote. shoulder girdle—at every workout. I start dreading having to train. not on a regular basis but whenever I feel the need to do a bit less for whatever reason. pushups. usually on Wednesdays. however harmless it may seem. There’s really no need to rush.” but. I want to look forward to my weight sessions. they’re fresher. I also vary difficult weeks with lighter ones. I can run my pulse rate up much higher moving through a fast circuit than I can while walking. Don’t try to go balls out from the very beginning. light and medium system for high-rep training the way I did when I was using lower reps. learn what you can and cannot do. “I have to train today. Think more about form than numbers. At those workouts I spend 45 minutes concentrating on abs and lumbars. He added one rep every other week. The same holds true for squats.” To me.incline bench. nor can anyone else I know. Not being able to do so isn’t a pleasant thought. Any exercise. by the way. you should pause at the bottom of each rep. If I stack too many demanding days on top of one another. deadlifts. My lower back and abs get nice and sore. The change from my normal routine always pays dividends. he was up to 65 reps. hips and legs. While I don’t normally use a light day in my weekly routine. I have one ready for days when I know I’m on the brink of overtraining. training is a privilege. yet I pull back on everything for that day to make sure.

Find something that’s pleasurable. then situps and reverse hypers at the end. Its simplest form—aerobics—is walking. Cardio is complicated only if you make it so. I walk seven. No matter how careful you are about selecting poundages and adhering to perfect form. The exercises for those groups get them nicely warmed up at the start of the session and serve as cooldown movements at the conclusion. Not only is it . If it happens again. when you do squat again. (President Harry Truman said that walking was the only exercise a person needed to stay fit. Perhaps leg raises and hypers prior to working out with weights. It’s absolutely critical that you maintain a strong core. Yet without healthy circulatory and respiratory systems you’re not going to be strong and certainly not fit. but now I look forward to my daily constitutional. You don’t have to power-walk unless you want to. dancing or working out while watching a video of one of the countless quick-fix programs being marketed on television. yet if things go south. unless the weather is nasty. I realize that the vast majority of older athletes who love to lift weights absolutely hate the notion of doing any form of cardio. Others prefer to keep the reps fairly constant and increase the resistance. lower the reps to 50. it’s good to have one in your repertoire just in case. you should work your abs and lumbars at every session. It’s really not that important how you set up your overall program. Otherwise you’re not going to do it on a regular basis. as long as you do it consistently and with determination. give it an extra day of rest. are equal to running. Don’t push through the pain. according to experts. Stop. Besides the primary exercises. You should have a definite idea of what you’re planning on doing that day. Your capacity for them wanes with age. but when you reach 50 on the second set. It’s critical that you stay flexible about what you do on a given day. I suggest that anyone starting in on a higher-rep routine do three sets of 20. you get a sharp pain radiating from your left knee. Cardio first. Perhaps deadlifts with heavier weights and a constant number of reps and flat-bench presses with the same poundage at every workout and the reps being continually pushed higher and higher. Of course. which you can do anywhere and at any time during the day. regardless of whether you’re using heavy or light weights. Let’s say that you plan to do 75 reps for three sets on the squat. but they should be incorporated into your program in some manner if you want to live an active lifestyle. I recommend trying both approaches and then determining which fits your needs. Learn to recognize them and go with the flow. ice the knee. Then. How you proceed from there depends on what equipment you have available and your personal disposition.) Start off doing 20 minutes and proceed from there to 45 minutes to an hour. More is better when it comes to walking. or both. Some like to stay with a set amount of weight and run the reps up.workload. and the results. You can walk before you train or after. then try again. you may enjoy some other form of cardio—swimming. Now I want to address three other aspects that are necessary for overall fitness: cardio. The first set goes smoothly. hiking. Yet others find their sessions more productive if they mix and match the two ideas. and it’s crucial that you do it every day. Rest. leave the squat alone. be ready to make adjustments. While you may never need such a break. flexibility and balance. While I lift six days a week. It took me a while to get into walking after running for 20 years. there are going to be setbacks.

it’s critical to maintain a certain standard of balance. Just make sure that the cardio activity you select is low impact. It took little physical effort but did entail intense concentration. Several months ago I read in the AARP magazine that men and women lose their ability to balance themselves rapidly after age 50. As I’d participated in nearly every sport imaginable and had done well in some that required a high degree of balance. Then. Unfortunately. easy does it. and practice them regularly. picking up objects from the floor. but it also helps with weight control. If your hobby of choice is golf or bowling. and the results were basically the same. old injuries and not doing anything to maintain a complete range of motion. Walking early in the morning or in the evening may appeal to you. You need to make certain you’re flexible enough to perform ordinary tasks without hurting a joint. Here’s how I work flexibility training into my daily fitness routine.beneficial to all your internal systems. By the time they reach 70. which is often a big problem for older athletes. Besides. because it isn’t used nearly as frequently as it is in youth. I added one-legged partial squats to my routine. you don’t have to walk or do any other form of cardio in close proximity to your weight work. Also. Over the years everyone. Then and there I vowed to change that and started practicing the skill. I also started moving up on curbs during my walk and balancing on one leg if I got stuck in a slowmoving line at a store checkout. they can stand on one leg for an average of only seven seconds. you’re never going to regain the same degree of flexibility in your joints as you had when you were younger. For those who want to remain active. I’m only looking for tight areas. individuals vary greatly as to their potential ability for developing a complete range of motion. What I quickly discovered was that my lower legs weren’t strong enough to support me for very long. Older joints are extremely susceptible to injury. About six hours after I’ve trained. When I find them. Yoga postures are good. while watching “Seinfeld” reruns. . do stretches that enable you to enjoy those sports free from worry that you might ding a joint. Otherwise you may end up doing more harm than good. you’re not going to be competing in a Greco-Roman wrestling match or getting ready for a hot date with a contortionist. Balance is another attribute that diminishes with age—again. but you can improve it. backs. seeking out tight joints and muscles. I was confident that I could exceed that average by a large margin. usually at the same time of night when I did my flexibility movements. It takes only about 15 minutes and really helps. however. In addition. so you never want to force any stretching move. but I’m not attempting to follow any definite system. I take a couple of magnesium-calcium tablets to help me relax as I prepare to go to bed. hips and legs. I slowly twist and stretch in all sorts of directions. athlete or not. that fit your needs. You feel stronger in midafternoon. though. You don’t have to approach it as a strict discipline. Pick out a few. that’s when you lift. You just wanting flexibility sufficient for simple tasks—gardening. or a lot. reaching up in a cabinet for a box of cereal. I call these moves activity-specific training: preparing your body for whatever you plan to do that coming week. I tried several more times. Why that happens varies: arthritis. The key point here is. To my consternation I managed to balance on my left leg for only eight seconds and my right only seven. It’s how much work you do throughout the day that counts. loses flexibility in the shoulders. I move like the old Chinese men who practice the ancient martial arts. I move around until I feel them relax.

Home-Gym. and you’ll be able to avoid many of the health problems associated with testosterone decline and be in a position to do battle with unwanted gray fat. Call (800) 447-0008. lower testosterone equals lower libido and less energy. but I’m up to half a minute on both legs and am steadily improving. Many who use testosterone therapy report elevated moods and a more positive outlook on life. Raise your testosterone level. That’s commonly referred to as “gray fat” and produces the dreaded potbelly. Testosterone does a great many things for overall health and well-being. .I haven’t progressed to the point where I’m ready to try out for a high-wire act. however. He’s the author of The Strongest Shall Survive—Strength Training for Football.com. Anything that helps you gain strength and muscle while making you healthier and more virile should make any male happy. and for good reason. on average. It lowers the risk of heart disease by reducing low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol. as most of you probably know. which is available for $20 plus shipping from Home Gym Warehouse. Editor’s note: Bill Starr was a strength and conditioning coach at Johns Hopkins University from 1989 to 2000. Testosterone While testosterone is extremely beneficial to every male. it has particular significance to those wanting to stay fit and healthy and maintain a pleasing physique. A study conducted in Amsterdam found links between belly fat and capillary inflammation. the hormone controls the distribution of fat through the body. As the supply of testosterone gradually diminishes. but no longer. I believe most older athletes would benefit from following the fitness philosophy of that remarkable nonagenarian Jack LaLanne. and between belly fat and insulin resistance. odds are that your count is low. So must we simply sit back and experience the inevitable? That was the case not too many years ago. Even if you don’t feel you’re quite ready for a high-rep program. a precursor of diabetes. that there are many older men who are still moving impressive poundages. creams. It’s necessary for muscle growth and enhances recovery from physical effort. patches. Prescriptions come in gels. Much more than appearance is affected. Ask your doctor to check your testosterone. it’s a smart idea to understand what to do when you are ready. spreading it around rather evenly. pills and injections. which is a contributor to heart disease. or visit www. Although I’m quite aware. from reading Bill Clark’s newsletter PL/USA and letters from friends. fat begins accumulating in the lower abdomen. If you’re eligible for a senior citizen’s discount. Up until the age of 40. with males moving toward the proverbial three score and 10. It’s really a matter of recognizing weak areas and making the necessary adjustments. I can also feel the difference as I move about during the day. Also.

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